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The Moral Ambiguity in OConnors A Good Man is Hard to Find

By Alex Liu Flannery OConnors A Good Man is Hard to Find begins with a grandmother and her family leaving for a family trip in Florida and ends with them being caught by a wanted federal penitentiary escapee known as The Misfit and brutally murdered. From looking at a brief summary of the story, the roles would seem to be obvious; the grandmother appears to be the storys protagonist, while The Misfit serves as the apparent villain. Reading through the story, however, reveals evidence that makes the truth unclear. OConnor uses the grandmother and The Misfit in order to question readers about the true meaning of good and evil and how the terms might apply to both. The very first line in the story highlights the grandmothers disagreeable nature. She didnt want to go to Florida (OConnor, 117), instead wanting to visit old friends in Tennessee. In an attempt to change her son Baileys mind, she shows the family an article about The Misfits escape from prison to scare them away from Florida and complains about having already visited Florida several times before. Even while in the car ride to Florida, she manipulates her grandchildren, John Wesley and June Star, to visit a plantation from her past by fabricating a story about hidden treasure there, forcing Bailey to take a detour in order to get there. The grandmother exhibits her hypocrisy several times throughout A Good Man, always advising her grandchildren to act cultured while displaying The grandmother does, however, possess some sympathetic traits. Bailey and his wife rarely ever pay attention to her and often disregard her opinions entirely (however flawed they may be), while the grandchildren constantly disrespect her and her values. She truly desires to have the rest of her family become good people, despite her questionable methods and ideals.

The Misfit, going by his actions, seems to be a true criminal. He denies any wrongdoing that had initially landed him in prison, and takes advantage of the familys car accident to take the car for himself. He is quick and efficient in his work, being sure to leave no survivors (neither the grandmother nor the baby are spared). The pleas for mercy from the grandmother and Baileys wife are ignored as the Misfit orders his two henchmen to execute the family members in the woods. Just as the grandmothers status as a good person is questionable, however, so is the Misfits status as evil. The Misfit, despite what he ultimately does to the family, speaks politely and kindly. He pleads with the grandmother to dont get upset (OConnor, 127) after she recognizes him. The Misfit also shows a notable amount of intelligence, engaging in a deep discussion of religion with the grandmother. He shows regret towards killing the family, taking off his glasses at the end of the story to reveal eyes [that] were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking and snapping at a henchmen who makes light of what has just happened.

The image I picked to represent my chosen theme was a labyrinth, specifically an endless one. I selected this image because I believed that it was the best described the conundrum that

readers face when attempting to unravel the conundrum of how to best judge the Misfit and the grandmother. As the Misfit points out at the end of the story after he shoots the grandmother: She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life (OConnor, 133). The grandmother might have been considered good if a gun had been regularly trained on her. The characters of the Misfit and the grandmother are simply much too complicated to be able to label them as good or evil.

Works Cited O'Connor, Flannery. "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." The Complete Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971. 117-33. Print.